Europe to Shoppers: You May Now Eat Abnormal Veggies

The European Union just repealed the laws they had in place banning the sale of abnormally shaped vegetables.

Pretty weird, but even crazier is the way they classify and standardize definitions of deformed produce:

The European Union is well known for its detailed regulations on appropriate shapes and sizes for agricultural items. Commission Regulation (EC) 2257/94, for example, states that bananas sold in Europe must be “free from malformation or abnormal curvature,” though Class 1 bananas can have “slight defects of shape,” and Class 2 bananas can have full “defects of shape.” Bananas were not covered in Wednesday’s ruling, so for now, these standards remain.

Different classes depending on how many “defects in shape.”  nice.

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Online news standardization

I came across this a bit old story about a project undertaken by Tim Berners lee. The project aims at creating a system to feed important metadata like journalist’s profile, way the news story was created etc. to create a rich metadata set which will provide more credibility to the news story and also provide more retrieval options.

It also aims to standardize the way this information can be embedded in the news stories to help news aggregators provide us with more accurate and meaningful news. 

“They can be buried anywhere – the first or second paragraph, the beginning of the story, or even the end,” he said. “It just seemed incredible that of all the basic information you might want to know about a story, even such basic things as who wrote it and for who, is extremely hard to get at the moment.”

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Tools and services for PIM

This is more of a link dump, but PIM is one of my favourite areas, and a lot of questions that I have explored came up in class today. I thought my fellow students would find these applications, technologies, and concepts interesting. These are all things that I use or have used at one point.

Rescue Time — for passive recording of on-computer activity (active application, with tagging/productivity scoring)
Cluztr — tracking (and publishing) all web pages visited
Attention Recorder — tracking all web pages visited
IPTC tagging — I’d call this one of the most underused technologies for PIM. Various apps available, add-ons for iPhoto, ACDSee, etc. Keep your descriptions, captions, photographer, tags, etc WITH your photos, so they are on your local copy and also added when you upload to flickr (only caveat is that they’re lost on edit).
Google Desktop — index/search of email, chat logs, web visits, etc across multiple computers
ScheduleWorld — an OpenML/Funambol service to synchronize calendar/to-do/contacts across multiple devices/people/apps
Wakoopa — tracking software usage
PhoneTag — voicemail-to-text transcription
EarthClassMail — have all your snail mail go to a central location and get it scanned online for you
RingCentral — virtual PBX to centralize and easily access phone numbers/voice mail anywhere

Also, it’s helpful to use a network attached storage drive, IMAP for email, SVN for file versioning, a scanner that does good one-touch OTR scanning of documents…

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Project Bamboo

Not sure if you have heard of Project Bamboo, but it is a effort to find ways to utilize and incorporate technology into humanities research to advance the field(s).  Sponsored by the Mellon Foundation, the end goal is a proposal for an implementation strategy, including standards and the like.  My husband has been attending the most recent workshop on behalf of Blackboard (because they want a seat at the table as the standards are being set of course!!!) and it’s basically been a 202 extravaganza.  At the table?  Librarians, philosophers, artists, lit profs, computer scientists, even a few iSchool professors (Larson and Kansa), etc. This led to lengthy debates about the meaning of what they were actually trying to do, how explcitly they should define it, how to carve up their worlds, why the sky is blue, etc. One of the main things that they apparently kept coming back to was, of course, The Tradeoff.  Who does the work and who reaps the benefits.

Pretty cool stuff though, and hearing his recap (“classification”, “ontology”, “schemas”, “data interoperability”, “buzz”, “buzz”, “buzz”) was essentially like a mini-study session for the midterm.

If anyone is interested in contributing – especially those philosophers among us – there are links to join off of their site.

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How does “Keiretsu” effect on standardization in auto-industry?

In the last lecture, there is an opinion pointing out that Japanese “sacrifice mind” causes the success of interoperability in Japanese auto industries. …Perhaps, that has effected to some extent, but I believe it is not, at least, a main reason. (If Japanese “sacrifice” culture had mainly caused success of achieving interoperability among inter-companies , all the Japanese businesses would have succeeded in constructing efficient standardized and interoperable systems among them. Of course, it is not true. ) In my opinion, there is another big reason, Japanese Keiretsu System in auto industries, which has contributed to incentive to adopt standardized systems among the companies.


Traditionally, Japanese auto-industry had constructed Keiretsu system. Japanese auto-manufactures, like Toyota, Nissan and Honda, mainly had dealt with specific auto components suppliers for a long term and these components suppliers had dealt with specific subtier suppliers for a long term. This pseudo-vertical integration gave each manufacturer a big power to force components companies to adopt the manufacturer’s standardized system.  Also, this meant that each supplier had incentive to adopt the manufactures standardized systems. The investment to adopt the specific standard could be rewarded because they could believe that they could continue to contract a specific auto-manufacturer for a long term. In this way, standardization was prevailed in each Keiretsu, vertical integration. It is often said that this vertical system contributes Japan auto-industry’s success.


In contrast, U.S. auto-manufactures usually seem to adopt bidding when they contract suppliers. Manufactures don’t necessarily continue to contract the specific suppliers for a long term, vice versa. This system, of course, contributes to keeping price of parts to be cheaper, but parts suppliers don’t have incentive to adopt the specific standard adopted by the specific manufacturer because the investment for standardization is not guaranteed to be recouped. I think this is a big difference between Japanese and U.S. automakers’ business model that might affect standardization.



I’m not so familiar with automaker’s business. So, this is only my hypothesis. However, I think it is possible that the exsistence of a powerful entity and long-term contracts may drive Japanese automakers to adopt standardization. Yes, this reason is also mentioned in the lecture. If players are assured to recoup their investment for standardization, they will adopt a certain standard. If not, they will not adopt and cooperate.


However, recently, Keiretsu system in Japan is changing. This system tends to keep prices of parts higher than bidding system, and there is a movement for automakers to increase ratio of trading with non-Keiretsu companies. For example, after its business crisis at the end of 90’s, Nissan declared to quit its Keiretsu System in order to cut its cost of parts.

This movement seems to drive automakers in Japan to build inter-Keiretsu standardizations. (I’m not sure whether this is succeeded or not.)




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Is Perfection No Longer a Category?

If you watched world class gymnasts Nastia Liukin or Shawn Johnson rake in the medals at the Beijing Olympics this summer, you may have noticed a winning beam score of “16.225” or a winning floor exercise score of “15.650.”  So why is the scoring no longer on a 0-10 scale, and what does a “16” even mean?

Though less intuitive to the spectator, these changes to the scoring system have come about in order better evaluate performance, categorizing it more discretely based on 1) execution and 2) difficulty.  In the past, judging has been characterized by deducting execution mistakes from a routine’s “start value” which is typically a 10.0 if the gymnast fulfilled his/her difficulty requirements.  Thus no deductions = “Perfect 10.”  However, there were distortions inherently built into this old notion of perfection: if two gymnasts both met the 10.0 difficulty threshold, but one gymnast added additional difficulty into her routine, this extra difficulty could not be reflected in the gymnast’s start value, as it was impossible to exceed 10.0. 
By re-factoring the judging schema, the concept of a maximum difficulty level no longer exists, and daring is aptly rewarded.  Though a gymnast can still receive a perfect execution score, there is no such thing as a perfect routine, because there are always new and more difficult tricks to potentially be incorporated.  In gymnastics, perfection has become a purely relative term, and by redefining the way in which routines are classified, a different type of champion — one who is flawless and fearless — is surfacing.


Lectures in the Syllabus: 
5. Concepts and Categories
7. Controlled names and Vocabularies

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Rural areas reap benefits of telemedicine

16 Aug 2008, 0430 hrs IST, Nirmala M Nagaraj,TNN




Telemedicine (the use of telecommunications to assist in the provision of medical services) is making it possible for cardiologists, neurologists or radiologists to attend to patients in rural India. For the past seven years, through video-conferencing of patients and doctors, 85,595 ECGs and 25,000 teleconsultations have been done, apart from 1,06,000 thrombosis cases by the 56 telemedicine centres in ten states. Even the postal service (Hrudaya Post) is being used where trained postal staff feed the data online (prescription, X-ray, ECG report, angiogram) for specialist consultation, a review report is sent within 24 hours, and the patient collects the report at the counter or at its doorstep (for an extra fee).




2. Issues and Contexts.

27. MULTIMEDIA IR (12/1) – X-Rays as Multimedia retrieved by medical personnel



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T-Shirt search engines tag and help you find shirt designs

Sounds silly, right?  Why would you need an entire search engine devoted to t-shirts?  However, clothing falls into that category of items that are plentiful and searchable online, yet difficult to search on for meaningful (visual) characteristics.

This new search engine, PleaseDressMe, was recently launched.  It searches some of the top t-shirt websites and tags them with useful, more general or esoteric keywords, such as “sarcasm”, “politics”, or “typography”.  Clothing is a good example of something that is easy to find when you’re not looking for it, but much more difficult to search precisely on concepts, or characteristics like fabric or sleeve length.  This search engine aims to make it easier for people to find comprehensive results of the kinds of t-shirts they’re looking for without having to visit sites individually or wade through pages of non-product google search results.

The TechCrunch article also has several comments pointing to Teenormous, a similar search engine with many more shirts indexed.


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“Library of Congress Advances 2 Digital Projects Abroad”

The Library of Congress is working on a plan to “digitize a collection of the world’s rare cultural materials” with a wide range of artifacts. They are also working with Unesco in Paris on a World Digital Library project, which will be available to the public next year.

This new World Digital Library will be modeled after the Library of Congress American Memory project (, which has millions of items on the Web, and other national libraries are joining the project.  Library of Congress librarian, James Billington, commented that the vision of this project is to encourage a “better intercultural understanding of the world”, and one of the goals is to offer the collection free on-line in developing countries.

The World Digital Library project prototype started with material from five other libraries, from other countries, and a $3 million grant from Google and technical assistance from Apple.  This digital library will be searchable in seven languages, and will ultimately be available across platforms such as personal computers, hand held devices and inexpensive laptops.

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Fixing Broken Ballots

How Design Can Save Democracy
The New York Times, August 25, 2008.

Interactive Feature: Problems/Solutions in Ballot Design

In recent years, there has been controversy about the design of election ballots that cause confusion for both voters and vote-counters. (Remember butterfly ballots?) Unfortunately, voting technology and ballot design are not standardized or consistent, and vary wildly across the country. Ignoring the whole other issue of electronic voting security, there are still many problems with ballots that use confusing language and layout, as well as have difficult to read small print. These are especially problematic for people with visual impairments or those whose first language is not English.

Fortunately, the United Stated Election Assistance Commission created ballot design guidelines earlier this year. Following a guide to improve clarity in both language and design should reduce voter confusion, and will hopefully reduce problems of vote accuracy.

Local governments often have very limited funding, and it’s challenging to design forms that are clear to the hugely diverse population of “Americans 18 and older.” However, it seems to me that this is a case where budgeting for some extra thought and effort in the initial design can prevent many problems and their related costs later.

Relates to lectures:
3. Organization {and, or, vs} Retrieval
7. Controlled names and vocabularies
12. Enterprise/institutional categorization & standards
19. Information organization in user interfaces

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